18 July 2023

Strengthened cross-border trade analysis and quality niche products for international markets


  • The Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) supported Benin in updating its Diagnostic Trade Integration Study in 2015. This has resulted in, amongst other things, the strengthening of its EIF National Implementation Unit (NIU) and an extensive study on cross-border trade in terms of trade facilitation and the strengthening of regional trade dynamics. Based on the recommendations of this study, the Government of Benin has mobilized around USD 7 million from the national budget for the financial year 2023 to begin building the first cross-border marketplace on one of the southern borders with Nigeria. This demonstrates the EIF’s role in institutional capacity-building and facilitating country ownership.
  • Before the EIF began its collaboration with Benin, the country did not have any national associations in key sectors such as shea, pineapple and cashew. The EIF, with the support of other partners, such as the European Union (EU), the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, has helped establish national trade associations ("interprofessions") in these sectors and has provided support to mobilize the national and private sectors and development partners. The case of the shea sector has been very instructive in terms of partnership, thanks to the targeted actions of the Global Shea Alliance (GSA), a non-governmental organization (NGO) that includes large shea companies.

Benin is full of opportunities. Full of value chains to improve trade.

Indeed, this small West African country bordered by Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Togo and with a coastline over 100 km, has great potential to improve the lives of its people. It is already widely recognized as one of the most politically stable least developed countries in Africa.  

Trade for Development as a path to pro-poor development saw the Government of Benin forming a partnership with the EIF to build the Beninese living standards and resilience to shocks by increasing the country's presence in international markets. 

The country is striving toward this by increasing the production and quality of agricultural products to the highest international export quality and making a name for itself. Benin has also improved its trade environment by developing a pro-poor trade policy framework and building capacity for its implementation. The country has moreover capitalized on the potential of its niche markets, in the process improving the livelihoods of the most vulnerable Beninese, particularly women producers and entrepreneurs. Surrounded by several neighbouring countries with attractive markets, Benin has also set its sights on ways of further improving partnerships and opportunities for regional trade and cooperation.

Building strong effective and agile institutions for sustainable trade 

The Government of Benin established a partnership with the EIF in 2003, embarking on the development of a Diagnostic Trade Integration Study (DTIS) and Action Matrix, along with evidence‑based and government-led analysis of constraints and opportunities for making trade work for economic prosperity and poverty reduction. The DTIS was completed in 2005, with an update ten years later. Together, the studies have provided a roadmap for progress toward the goal of supporting small businesses to trade and develop the kinds of jobs that improve lives and spur sustainable economic development.

A foundation was laid with the development of a national trade development policy, a quality policy, a food safety policy and training for stakeholders from the public and private sectors and civil society on rules of origin, traceability, production techniques and market access. In addition, the Government–EIF programme contributed to several reforms, including trade facilitation at the border; reforms at the level of customs; and the creation of the Commercial Court. 

The EIF's contribution to mainstreaming trade in Benin's National Development Plan 2018–2025 led to further major reforms in the trade and industry sectors. In the industry sector, these included increased support for the local processing industry by facilitating access to the approvals of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Trade Liberalization Schemes and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) Preferential Community Tax. 

Quality Infrastructure Regions were established and strengthened with the development of the National Quality Policy. Special economic zones have now been established following the promulgation of the law on these. In addition, technical centers have been set up for food processing, packaging and construction, while 33 industrial installations have been authorized. 

The trade sector benefitted from effective support for Beninese product exports, including export incentives, lifting of non-tariff barriers and the establishment of a modern and appropriate trade ecosystem. 

Policy to action – maximizing on winning export products made by women

Targeted support in key sectors, such as pineapple, shea, cashew, soya and rice, is enhancing women's involvement in economic activities and strengthening Benin's trade by promoting and diversifying its exports.

A mapping exercise conducted under a Government–EIF project revealed that there are more than 28,000 women shea producers. Meanwhile, export figures show growing international demand for shea from countries such as China, Egypt, Japan, South Africa and South Korea, with an accompanying 50% growth in the number of shea kernels collected since 2018.

Despite this significant contribution, Benin's shea producers did not have a national association. The EIF helped establish a national shea association and provided support to mobilize the national and private sectors through EIF partner GSA and the Unites States Agency for International Development initiative to increase the participation of Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Togo in the regional and global shea trade market. Together, the four countries represent 61% of shea exports worldwide.

Shea enterprises, mainly formalized female cooperatives, were trained in export procedures together with input from the private sector. They also benefited from the construction of some 20 storage warehouses. 

The EIF "accompanying model" of assistance bolstered another of the country's primary commodity sectors. Pineapples are Benin's third most important agricultural product with up to 500,000 metric tonnes produced each year. The shea and pineapple value chains, with women being almost 80% of the active players, are a key source of employment, women's economic empowerment, export income and raw materials for the industry, as well as food for local populations. 

Benin is now Africa's fourth largest pineapple exporter. Although overseas exports make up only 2% of total production, they account for half of the sector's profits. The sector has experienced and surmounted significant setbacks, including in 2017, when the Government voluntarily halted exports to the EU due to high levels of a chemical used by farmers to turn the naturally green sugarloaf pineapples yellow, as preferred by European consumers. The Government of Benin spent eight months resolving the use of the chemical. Under its partnership with the EIF, important strides were made in improving the harvesting, processing and marketing of the fruit. 

Achieving excellence and making a name

In 2021, Benin's sugarloaf pineapple was granted protected "geographical indication" (GI), a legal label signifying that a product is from a particular region. GI certification can potentially increase a product's value as a premium brand. For Benin, this raises the promise of a lucrative future for farmers, the industry and tens of thousands of the pineapple sector's workers.

Another milestone for the country has been the designation of GI status for gari souhoui, a gari flour made from cassava grown in a particular region of Benin and processed using methods unique to the area. The designation was achieved as part of the EIF project with the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) as a sub-implementing entity. To integrate GIs into the National Trade Policy document of Benin, UNCTAD worked with the Agriculture Directorate and Ministry of Industry and Commerce, a group of women gari souhoui producers and several other partner institutions, including the National Industrial Property Agency – part of the national office of the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle – and the regional office of the World Intellectual Property Organization. 

Partnerships helping to lighten the load

The enabling environment and catalytic projects implemented have helped foster new partnerships for enhancing pro-poor trade. EIF partners ITC, UNCTAD and the UN Industrial Development Organization, jointly implemented, inter alia, an EIF-supported cotton by-product feasibility study aimed at helping Benin generate additional revenue streams from the production, processing and trade of cotton. 

Benin has also raised its engagement level in regional trade bodies. The country is a member of ECOWAS and WAEMU and has benefitted from EIF partner UNCTAD's initiative to facilitate the implementation of regional instruments on transit, transport and trade facilitation. Its goal is to simplify cross-border procedures to increase trade, thereby reducing poverty and boosting production. An important benefit will be to ease border procedures for informal traders, who are mostly women.  

Value for money

Since 2014, the EIF has injected over USD 6.7 million in support of Benin's journey to trade for sustainable development. The Government's confidence in the partnership, the EIF's approach of putting the country in the driving seat and leading by example through catalytic projects prompted the Government to co-finance some activities from its own resources, thus establishing its commitment to the role of Main Implementing Entity in nearly all activities. The greatest outcomes from the EIF partnership, according to Euloge Houngbo, have been better defined trade priorities: 

"Trade is now integrated into several sectoral policies. It is cross-cutting, but was previously not perceived as such. It was not seen that there was a complementarity between production, processing and market access."


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As the second phase of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) comes to an end in 2024, the objective is to produce a catalogue of impact stories showcasing the efforts of the EIF partnership in the least developed countries (LDCs) and recently graduated LDCs where it has been actively engaged. This impact story makes up one of the stories in the catalogue. Essential input and reviews were received from the country‑based EIF National Implementation Units (NIUs) and the wider EIF team. 

The primary objective of each impact story, as well as the entire catalogue, is to adopt a journalistic approach in recounting the EIF's engagement in the LDCs during both Phase One and Two. The aim is to offer valuable insights and to document outcomes and impacts, as well as some lessons learned from the work of the EIF partnership in the LDCs. These stories do not provide a comprehensive overview of every aspect of EIF partnership engagement such as precise timelines or the exact extent of involvement (i.e., financial contributions). Instead, they serve as one of several means of information about the work of the EIF partnership. Interested readers are encouraged to supplement these impact stories by consulting other sources, including EIF Annual Reports, Trade for Development News articles, EIF social media channels, and, where applicable, the NIUs in the LDCs as well as the EIF Executive Secretariat.

It is essential to acknowledge that the information provided is neither exhaustive (e.g., it is based on the latest available data at the time of writing in 2023) nor evaluative in nature. 

Lastly, while each impact story adheres to a similar structure, the diverse range of countries, contexts, and EIF engagements means that each story is unique.

Any views and opinions expressed on Trade for Development News are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect those of EIF.